I was first introduced to the Old Fashioned cocktail in my early twenties, and to be honest, it was not love at first sight. I have been enjoying bourbon whiskey almost since I have been of legal drinking age, but the Old Fashioned just did not seem appealing. I think it had to do with the fact that it sounded so…….OLD! I suppose I always thought of it as an “old-man-drink” and never really bothered to give it a decent chance.
That all changed about three years ago. I was working as a server at Red White+Bluezz and our GM/Sommelier Russ Meek exclaimed “You’ve never had an Old Fashioned?!??!!”. I had to sheepishly admit that I had never had a good experience with one. He then proceeded to whip one up for me, detailing what he was using and his methods. His recipe was the “popular” one of today; sugar and bitters (YES!), cherry, orange, bourbon, ice, soda water.
My god, was it delicious!
It was a perfect blend of flavors and beautifully balanced. That evening I enjoyed two more creations, the last one being made by myself. That one experience had catapulted my love for the Old Fashioned cocktail into one of near fanaticism. For the next few months I constantly ordered them, suggested them, made them, drank them.
It was a glorious period of time.
I knew I had entered into a era of enjoying cocktails. By that, I mean, not just using booze to “escape”, but the whole experience of drinking and what it did to all of my senses. The sight of the orange slice and the brown bourbon interlaced with the bright red cherry. The initial smell of the aromatics of the angostura bitters and the oils of the citrus. The cool touch and feel of the condensed water on the side of the glass. The sound the ice made clinking around as I swirled the spirit against the soda and orange. And of course the terrific taste of balanced beauty as I gingerly sipped from the rim.
Over the years, I had also tried many variations, rye whiskey, irish whiskey, canadian whiskey, brandy, rum, and tequila. I tried different garnishes as well, lemon instead of orange, luxardo cherries instead of maraschino, strawberries instead of cherries. The possibilities seemed to be endless. I have also enjoyed creating my own variations of this wonderful concoction. I am even putting a “New Fashioned” on my secret cocktail menu at Hotel Casa 425 in Claremont, CA.
This past week I went on a little field trip to explore some nearby cocktail culture. I’ll get into the whole trip some other time, but I wanted to bring up my last stop which was at Las Perlas in DTLA. Las Perlas is a well-known tequila and mezcal bar, so when I saw they had an old fashioned cocktail, needless to say I was quite intrigued. After I ordered, I watched (as well as other curious onlookers) as the bar man lovingly created a fantastic perfectly-balanced well-structured cocktail. It was so good I ordered two more throughout the night and suggested it to a good friend (he loved it too). The flavor of the reposado tequila combined with the smokiness of the mezcal made for such a pleasurable gift for my palate. The complexity of the mexican spirits mixed with the sugar, bitters and citrus was so enjoyable, I knew that I had to try my hand at replicating this libation. The next day at work, affectionately dubbed “the lab”, I successfully(!) re-created what I saw the bar man do.
To make this cocktail, you only need a handful of ingredients that again can be found at any BevMo or quality liquor store. You might have a little trouble finding good mezcal, and please note that it should NOT have a worm at the bottom. That is/was a marketing ploy and does not make the spirit any better. With many things in life, you get what you pay for. So if you want a finely crafted quality cocktail, you may have to pay a little extra for proper ingredients.
1.5 ounces reposado or añejo tequila (I used Partida reposado)
.5 ounces mezcal (I used Del Maguey, San Luis del Rio village)
1 sugar cube
4-5 dashes aromatic cocktail bitters (I used the most well-known brand, Angostura)
1 Old Fashioned glass
Ice (actual cubes are best, the bigger, the better)
1 maraschino cherry (If you can find/afford luxardo cherries, you will never want to use the atomic red kind)
Citrus peeler or knife
Place the sugar in the glass and add 5 dashes of angostura bitters to that sweet little sucker.
Muddle/mash for about 10 seconds to create a syrup-like consistency.
Add the tequila and the mezcal and stir gently.
Add a large ice cube/cubes and stir again to create a little dilution.
Peel a slice of orange and squeeze over the glass to release the oils and then wipe the rind along the rim.
Add the luxardo cherry and say “Cheers!”, you just created a delicious smoky tequila Old Fashioned.
Just as you should with any aromatic cocktail, take your time enjoying it. Appreciate the aromas of citrus and smoke. Let the cherry add its sweetness to the drink for a few minutes before biting into it. Try it with a peel of lemon or grapefruit instead of the orange for a variation.